Nebraska Provides Model for Battling Unemployment

First-in-nation program will take individualized approach with one-on-one training

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has announced a program that would require those filing for unemployment to sign up for a personalized “re-employment plan” to receive benefits. This requirement, which takes effect Oct. 1, would be the first of its kind in the United States, as most states offer job training but only as an optional supplement to unemployment benefits.

After 50 years of one-size-fits-all federal programs, the “War on Poverty” has largely failed to make a dent in the U.S. poverty rate. The move by Gov. Ricketts to focus on outcomes — lowering the number of those needing benefits by finding them a job — rather than inputs — how much money government can spend (the status quo) — is a promising one and should be emulated by other states that wish to truly combat systemic poverty.

Anyone seeking benefits in Nebraska would sign up on the state’s employment website, NEWorks. Applicants will create a personal profile and have access to various tools and resources, such as a résumé builder and job listings. In this way the program works for job seekers and employers alike by connecting them online to best meet their respective needs.

The program takes an individualized approach by assigning applicants to one of a dozen new job-training “coaches,” whose role is to work one-on-one to craft a reemployment plan that fits that person’s needs. When meeting face-to-face is not possible, the coaches and trainees can connect via online videoconferencing either from home or a local library.

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A job coach from the Nebraska Department of Labor gives Gov. Ricketts a demonstration of the NEWorks online program. | Photo: Nebraska Department of Labor

About 1,700 Nebraskans participated in the program’s precursor from January to March of this year. But as the Lincoln Journal Star reports, the governor’s office anticipates that number could reach 18,000. According to the governor’s office, there are currently 18,000 searchable résumés and nearly 57,000 posted job openings on NEWorks.

“This program provides the one-on-one assistance that workers need as they look to transition off unemployment benefits and into good jobs that fit their skills and experience,” Gov. Ricketts said in a written statement. “Providing Nebraskans with an individualized plan as they seek new employment opportunities will aid them in expeditiously reentering the workforce.”

Nebraska Commissioner of Labor John H. Albin added in the same release:

“Previously, only claimants who were identified as the most likely to exhaust benefits were enrolled in a more limited version of this program. We are now taking a more aggressive approach to accelerate the reemployment process for all jobseekers to ensure that all of our agency’s customers have the highest level of support as they seek reemployment.”

Nebraska’s program emulates the vision put forward in Opportunity Lives’Comeback” video series, in which programs in impoverished ZIP codes offer not only material assistance but empower individuals with the skills and values to find meaningful work and stick with it.

As Rev. Deforest “Buster” Soaries Jr. says in the video, “There is a role that people must play in their own uplift. … Government provides a limited role, but an important role.”

Gillum Ferguson is the Deputy Editor at Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @GillumFerguson.